When you are divorced or divorcing, you may have plenty of reasons to be concerned about your children, especially if your mate is planning to live with someone you don't trust, or your children are being abused, neglected, or molested. Before you take the drastic step of abducting them, there are some important things you should know.
Facing Legal Ramifications
Before divorce proceedings and custody agreements are made, both parents have equal rights and access to their children, so if you took them and left, you could not be charged with kidnapping. Once an order has been made through the court about custody arrangements and visitation, however, you are legally bound to honor the agreements made, so taking them off is a bad idea.
States differ on what constitutes kidnapping on the part of a parent. Usually, authorities will look at any court orders that define the custody arrangement. They will also look at your legal status and your intent in taking the children. If you have legal custody, you can't be charged with kidnapping.
If you don't have custody and you take your children off without permission of the other parent, you would likely face a parental kidnapping charge, especially if your intent is to conceal them and prevent your ex from having access to them. Because they are your children, they are likely to go with you willingly, so you can receive this charge even if you did not use force or have a weapon. In many states, keeping the children over 24 hours can constitute kidnapping unless you can prove they were in imminent danger of harm.
If you are convicted of parental kidnapping, you will receive several years of prison time or probation, and large fines. This is partly because your children are minors and they cannot legally consent to go with you.
If you can prove that you did not take the children to terrorize your mate, the charge may be dropped to "custody interference." This can result in you losing any attempts you are making to get lawful custody, you may be held responsible for your ex's legal fees, and you may be sanctioned for contempt by the court for your actions. The court may also order reduced or supervised visitation, if it is apparent that you might try unlawfully taking them again.
You Are Not Powerless
If you are truly concerned about the children's welfare while they are with the other parent, there are some actions you can take to protect them. First work on accumulating evidence that you can later present to the authorities or the court. This would include:
- Keeping a dated notebook to record things your children have told you about incidents of neglect or verbal and/or physical abuse.
- Taking pictures of any marks or bruising on your children.
- Taking them to a physician/counselor if need be, and having the professional forward any reports to you and your attorney.
- Talking to the school authorities and soliciting their help.
- Reporting neglect and abuse to child welfare authorities.
You should talk to a family/divorce lawyer about the custody issues you are having and your concerns about the children's safety and well-being. He or she can tell you what your options are, and will help you to fight for them.